We met Maria Alvear one spring at the Alimentaria (Spain’s international food and drinks exhibition). She asked if we wanted to try Alvear’s PX sherry-style wine, and—unlike most folks who said “yes” for a taste of the famous elixir—we said “no” and asked if Alvear had PX vinegar. She was surprised, but they did; we were thrilled, and it was great!
Few know that the sherry classification Amontillado—referring to golden, dry, smooth sherry—translates literally to “coming from Montilla”. Montilla, Spain, the Pedro Ximénez (PX) wine capital of Andalucía, has always been an important PX town because of its elevation, crumby soil and warm climate—a situation in which the PX grape thrives (elsewhere, it is a little delicate and prone to blights and mold).
Bodegas Alvear, founded in Montilla in 1729, is a producer of famous PX wines—and the PX vinegars that we import (for a sense of wines’ quality, Robert Parker gave the 2011 Alvear Pedro Ximénez de Añada 100 points, calling it “the most amazing Pedro Ximénez I have ever tasted”).
The really interesting thing about the PX grape is that it makes two different traditional types of wine (and thus vinegar). The dry fino style base is derived from PX grapes harvested using normal wine harvest practices. This wine is first vinified in 500 liter barrels filled only 5/6ths full to allow the “velo de flor” (a unique yeast indigenous to the soil in Montilla, which produces a dry nutty flavor) to form as a haze on the top. At 5 years it transferred to a solera, where it is slowly blended cask to cask.
The sweet PX is different because of the harvest: The clusters of grapes remain on the vine much longer and when they start to shrivel, they are placed on plaited esparto grass mats to further concentrate their flavor in the sun. The sweetness comes from this concentration of flavor—not any “noble rot”. The result is a thickish , sweet elixir much like a port or wine of Banyuls.
Today, Bodegas Alvear—in the hands of the eighth Alvear generation—is a privately held company with 50 family members as partners. Fernando Alvear is the general manager and his cousin Maria Alvear the export manager. The Alvear family’s long experience and their stewardship of PX wine and the soil in Montilla make for wines of great distinction, which in turn yield two superlative vinegars, dry and sweet. We at KL Keller are proud to be associated with this family, their tradition and their quality.